US Fish & Wildlife Service


Date of this Version



North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee, 2011. The State of the Birds 2011 Report on Public Lands and Waters. U.S. Department of Interior: Washington, DC. 48 pages.



Public Lands and Waters Are Essential for Birds

Each year, the State of the Birds report provides important scientific data to a broad audience with a call to action to improve the conservation status of birds and the environment. This year’s report brings attention to the tremendous promise of public lands and waters for conserving America’s wildlife and habitats. The United States has a long history of conservation on public lands. More than one-third of U.S. lands and all of our oceans are publicly owned, including some of our nation’s most spectacular natural areas. These habitats support more than 1,000 bird species, one-third of which are endangered, threatened, or of conservation concern.

In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln established Yosemite as the first park set aside by the federal government specifically for public use and preservation. As environmental exploitation continued across unprotected lands, the Passenger Pigeon, once the world’s most abundant bird, was driven to extinction in the wild by the turn of the century. Recognizing that this loss meant “mankind was just so much poorer,” President Theodore Roosevelt championed the irreplaceable value of birds and other wildlife, and set aside 80 million acres for public land conservation, including the first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903.

Today, more than 850 million acres of land and 3.5 million square miles of ocean are publicly owned, including more than 245 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management, 6,000 State Park units, 1,600 Marine Protected Areas, 550 National Wildlife Refuges, 350 military installations, 150 National Forests, and nearly 400 National Park Service units. These areas support our native bird species, many of which are declining, as described in the 2009 and 2010 State of the Birds reports.

This year’s report provides the nation’s first assessment of the distribution of birds on public lands and helps public agencies identify which species have significant potential for conservation in each habitat. This assessment used high-performance computing techniques to analyze a massive data set on bird distribution from citizen-science participants across the U.S. (eBird), along with the first comprehensive database of public land ownership (Protected Areas Database of the U.S.).

The state of our birds is a measurable indicator of how well we are doing as stewards of our environment. The signal is clear. Greater conservation efforts on public lands and waters are needed to realize the vision of a nation sustained economically and spiritually by abundant natural resources and spectacular wildlife.

President Obama’s new initiative, “America’s Great Outdoors,” recognizes that throughout our nation’s history, conservation actions have been grounded in the premise that our natural heritage belongs to the people, and that its protection is shared by all Americans. The call to action for bird conservation in this report goes hand in hand with “America’s Great Outdoors,” which empowers all Americans to share in the responsibility to conserve, restore, and provide better access to our lands and waters in order to leave a healthy, vibrant outdoor legacy for generations yet to come.